May 23rd, 2012
10:47 AM ET

After Niagara suicide attempts, questions about how and why

After two people tried to commit suicide by going over Niagara Falls in two days, local media were asking questions about the falls, including:

What could enable a person to survive a plunge?

Are suicide attempts from the falls on the rise?

Is a coming high-wire stunt walk over the falls encouraging the suicide attempts?

On Monday, a man plunged 180 feet over the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side of the Niagara River. He's now in a Hamilton, Ontario, hospital recovering from injuries that include several broken ribs, a collapsed lung and gashes to his head and shoulders, according to a report in the Buffalo News.

He was pulled to safety by emergency crews after collapsing in waist-deep water, according to a report from CNN affiliate WGRZ in Buffalo.

He is only the fourth person to survive a plunge over the Horseshoe Falls, historian Paul Gromosiak told the News.

The others include a 30-year-old Canadian man in 2009, a Michigan man in 2003 and a 7-year-old boy in 1960, according to the news reports.

The Toronto Star reports that thousands of people have gone over the falls, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, and asks why the known survivor cases are predominantly recent.

The paper points out that the three most recent survivors went over the railing on the Canadian side near the Table Rock House tourist building. From there, the Niagara River's 25 mph current pushed them over the falls.

Some have speculated that the men could have been pushed away from rocks at the base of the falls by a cushion of water, or that winds whipped up the crashing water, according to the Star.

The late Wesley Hill, a Niagara Falls expert, said in 2006 that the dynamics of the falls change based on the amount of water hydro companies take from the upper Niagara River, the Star reported.

But a man who has investigated the three most recent falls survivor cases isn't certain of any constant among them.

"The Niagara River is completely unpredictable," Niagara Parks Police Sgt. Chris Gallagher told the Star.

What is predictable is that the falls will attract people attempting suicide.

While the man in Monday's plunge survived, another person who went over the American portion of Niagara Falls on Tuesday apparently did not. A body has not been recovered, according to local media reports.

New York State Parks Police said Tuesday's suicide on the American Falls was the fourth this year, slightly ahead of a pace that usually sees nine suicides a year from the American side, according to the Buffalo News.

"We're running a little high," Lt. Patrick B. Moriarty of the State Parks Police told the News.

About 20 to 30 people commit suicide from both sides of the Niagara a year, according to the report.

Police usually don't publicize the suicides, Inspector Paul Forcier of the Niagara Parks Police on the Canadian side told the St. Catherine's Standard.

But a planned June stunt is bringing fresh publicity to Niagara Falls this year and has some questioning whether it is giving impetus to suicide attempts.

Renowned high-wire walker Nik Wallenda has announced he will attempt to walk a tightrope over Niagara Falls on June 15.

Wallenda told the News that the stunt should be encouraging anything but suicide.

"I'm doing the impossible, which is what a lot of people feel they can't do because they're depressed. Me making it across the wire and living shows people that they can achieve anything," the News quotes Wallenda as saying.

Wallenda will walk a 2-inch cable attached to massive cranes on each side of the falls, about 1,800 feet across, and 200 feet up from the bottom of the gorge. The crossing should take about 30 to 40 minutes and is planned to take place in early evening.

The last person to cross the gorge on a wire was James Hardy in 1896, but Wallenda said he will be the first to cross directly over the waterfall.

Psychologists disagree over whether the Wallenda stunt has any connection to suicides, according to the Buffalo News report.

"It's something else that kind of gets the falls out there, kind of plants a seed in people's minds," Timothy M. Osberg, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Niagara University, told the News.

Steven L. Dubovsky, chairman of the department of psychiatry at the University at Buffalo, doesn't see any connection.

"It might have just reminded people that the falls are there. I doubt it would make people want to jump into the falls," the News quoted Dubovsky as saying.

Visitors to the falls on Tuesday told the Standard they didn't think anything could be done to make the tourist attraction safer.

"There are already signs posted telling people not to climb over the railings. Having more police or higher railings would just spoil it for everyone else. People will still climb over. People always do silly things,” the Standard quotes Stephen Moore, a British tourist, as saying.

“You can patrol these areas and try to make them safer, but at the end of the day, things happen. One way or another, they do,” Rich Inge, a tourist from Scotland, told the Standard.

Park police on both sides of the river are a bit more upbeat. They tell CNN affiliate WVIB that they've talked more people out of suicide at the falls than those who have actually gone through with it.

Suicide emergency phones on both sides of the river have made a difference, according to the report.

And anyone who suspects that someone they know is considering suicide of any kind should try to get them to talk, Mary McConnell of Jewish Family Service told WVIB.

Body of woman swept over falls recovered

Woman swept to death over Niagara Falls

Daredevil to attempt to cross falls on wire

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Filed under: Canada • Niagara Falls
soundoff (150 Responses)
  1. rlavallee2869

    What exactly is the story here? A couple of sad sacks tried to off themselves publicly, so what? If their lives are so worthless to them that they want to throw it all away, let them. How could someone survive a fall like that... is this even a question? Blind luck, that's how. Psychologists disagree about whether or not Wallenda's upcoming stunt is "planting the seed" in people's minds, encouraging them to off themselves too, so what? If people are so weak-willed and stupid as to jump, let 'em. The gene pool is better off without their contribution. Suicide attempts at the Falls could be on the rise, so what? These things run in cycles and we're never going to stop people from trying to kill themselves if that's what they want to do. C'mon, you can't tell me there aren't more productive ways for a writer to spend his time than in vomiting up stories like this one.

    May 25, 2012 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
  2. madmaninthemiddle

    There must be a connection between motive and method. Seems like jumping over the Falls or off a building, shooting yourself or something else violent and painful indicates anger or self loathing. If you're depressed, the booze and pills route makes more sense. Has to be a reason why people would opt for pain.

    May 25, 2012 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
  3. GenXcynic

    How about the ever popular Golden Gate Bridge? Have they seen an increase out in activity?

    I don't get it – why spend your last moments in life falling?

    May 25, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Highland

    Free health in Canada is not free. Someone pays for the "free care". They're called taxpayers so that freeloaders can get "free care".

    May 27, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Steve

    Hey, if you're going to go out, go out with a great view.

    May 27, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. GeorgeBos95

    Oh, please. People are going to commit suicide at the Falls regardless of whether people perform stunts there. Just like they throw themselves off cliffs, bridges, ingest overdoses, or inhale CO from cars and charcoal grilles.

    Here's a thought ... try establishing a causal relationship between ads for charcoal grilles and elevated levels of suicides. I'm sure you can find it ... after all, rational thought isn't your strong suit. You could just pull that connection out of your butt as you did this one.

    May 27, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Deepdiver

    These are arguments are ridculous. Nothing will get coverage anymore or be shown in tv or movies for fear someone could take it the wrong way and use it as inspiration for murder or suicide. I guess we can't show or even talk about bridges or buildings in any way, because people might get the wrong idea. I guess that means we can't show cars or alcohol, because people might get the wrong idea and use those too.

    May 27, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Varan

    Brad Lendon forgot about the boy in 1980 that was saved by Superman.

    May 27, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. markus

    I really think they should turn off the falls so people won't die going over them. Then, to prevent people from killing themselves by jumping, we could create the world's largest place to dump old pillows. Then we would all be safe.

    June 20, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. sctaraf

    Suicides are on the rise in Canada, and here is why: The unemployment rate is high, higher than the Government says because the Government only counts those collecting Unemployment Insurance as those being unemployed. So if you can't receive insurance because you don't have enough hours, work certain jobs or use your insurance up previously, you're screwed. We are currently under control of an illegitimate Government that is only in power due to massive election fraud that crossed the country. Canadians feel major despair, especially while our illegitimate Prime Minister touts to the worls how amazing and how awesome things are in Canada. Don't buy the BS.

    July 25, 2012 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
  11. Kathleen Luciano

    I know there's a lot of suicide attempt in Niagara Falls, i'm really embarrassed to post this I probably sound like crazy person ..... I had a dream it felt so real , Man named John said he jumped nearby he said bridge, Canada, river element , industrial , note, disgusted, so thinking about it and putting it together and since I live in the falls Took a little drive was it was bothering me . So I went down Whirlpool in the falls and yes there's a bridge but it's closed takes you across Niagara Falls to Canada and there is a sign saying industrial , well that was too freaky for me I am writing this down Just in case

    January 15, 2014 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
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